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Too Late to Save Macy’s State Street?

(Photo: The more things change at Macy’s State Street, the more they suck the same.)

I’ve said it, and said it and I’ve said it again: Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren will go to the grave–and take the former Marshall Fields with him–before he and his team get a clue about how to treat Chicagoans.

Shame on anyone with a 606xx ZIP Code for thinking that the carbetbagging New York nameplate and national-presence pretender had finally gotten it last fall when Macy’s finally announced the rollout of a Chicago-centric advertising campaign centering on the State Street store. (You know, the campaign Chicagoans have been calling for since 2005?)

Nice idea, but after a second consecutive Christmas with declining sales, it may be too late to save the old Marshall Fields flagship. And this time, the post-season job cuts are affecting Macy’s Chicago area stores, including State Street.

First to go: all food-service workers at every Macy’s in the Chicago area except for State Street. And not with advance warning, mind you. With an HR person standing in front of each food court last Friday morning telling arriving workers that they were instantly out of a job.

Great idea, Terry. Dump those food counters that give shoppers an in-store refreshment break, keeping ’em happily captured behind the Macy’s nameplate and readying them up for a second round of shopping post-lunch shopping. Why retain any practical strategy that gives shoppers a reason not to leave a Macy’s while they’re still in one?

But if you think the post-Christmas treatment of Macy’s local food-service workers was Grinchy, keep reading. According to the Sun-Times, Macy’s has also unceremoniously dumped Amy Meadows. Don’t know her name, dear Chicagoan? Trust me, you’ve seen her work.

She’s dressed the State Street Christmas windows and decorated the Great Tree for the past 25 years.

According to a Macy’s spokesperson, “We have a talented visual team who will decorate our store windows and continue the time-honored tradition.” Give me a Goddamn break.

Lundgren and his team at long last say they’ll respect Chicago sensibilities, and then turn around and piss on Chicago tradition once again and act like it doesn’t matter. I’ve been optimistic about the State Street store’s chances for ore than a year. I give up. I don’t have the energy to bitch about the stupidity anymore, I think it speaks for itself.

I’m tired of making excuses. There aren’t any (except for the supposition that Lundgren and his time are on crack).

I was right in August 2006 when I waked through Macy’s State Street and cried wolf to citywide media on those initial, boneheaded store maps that listed the wrong names of the streets surrounding the store. At that time I said:

“When you’re under intense scrutiny from an entire city of your potential customers. many of whom have already labeled you callous and capricious when it comes to local culture, it’s really best to dot your ‘is and cross your ‘t’s. Or at least to show that you know where the store you bought is actually located.”

It is equally important to know where their hearts are located, too. In this town, that would be at the State Street store, every Christmas, gaping in colorful windows and up at sparkling trees to see the culmination of years of local tradition.

It is that tradition that soundly got the ax with Meadows’ firing. You cannot value-engineer institutional memory and you cannot replace more than two decades of holiday tradition with a $10-an-hour casual employee given glitter and a glue gun.

With Terry Lundgren remaining at the helm of Macy’s, I don’t see how we have another Christmas on State Street to speak of, friends. The next cuts will be deeper and throughout the Chicago flagship store.

Terry, how ’bout you tell 3 million of your potential customers why proving that you’re right and we’re wrong keeps on helping your bottom line? You made the worst retail blunder of the past 20 years–and of your career–by shoving the Macy’s nameplate down the collective throat of Chicago. Given the colossal stupidity of that mistake, I can’t imagine why the rest of your board has any confidence in you now to fix it.

Memo to Steven Bollenbach, Deirdre Connelly, Mayer Feldberg, Sara Levinson, Joseph Neubauer, Joseph Pichler, Joyce Roche, Karl von der Heyden, Craig Weatherup, and Marna Whittington: if you folks are looking for candidates for your next round of employee cuts, my advice is to look to the head of the board table y’all are seated at, first.

Categories: Macy's State Street Shopping

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

10 replies

  1. BOO-YAH! And Amen, brotha!

    At the time of the purchase, Macy’s fully believed that they, as a well-known department store name, would be able to revitalize the time, culture and tradition of department store shopping, but they most certainly have not gone about it in the right way by any means. It isn’t just the name, it isn’t just the incorrect postings. I didn’t even grow up in Chicago and I know these things. It is the culture. There is something missing now that is no longer reminiscent of the days when my mother used to take me, dressed to the nines in patent leather mary janes for a nice, warm popover and a split maurice salad.
    Instead of revitalizing it, they’ve hindered, cheapened, disregarded it altogether….

    Oh, and I’m back online, Mike… 😉 good to see ya’!

  2. No one would ever confuse me with anyone who knows anything about economics, but why would Macy’s buy the Fields chain if department stores were already in a decline when the sale went through?

    I completely agree with Mr. Jett above–I’ve shopped at the State Street store and I’ve shopped at Macy’s in NYC. These stores were on completely different levels as far as quality of the goods and the services offered. Macys is far closer to a Goldblatts than to a Fields.

  3. Robert, with all due respect, get over yourself. As a resident of this neighborhood, I’ve been writing and bitching about Macy’s takeover of my former local Marshall Fields–the State Street store–for the past two years.

    In that time my posts make it quite clear that Macy’s is just not the same store. However, unless you and the wags over at SaveFields have a time machine stashed away somewhere that I don’t know about, really, give up the grasping at straws.

    Fields is gone and not coming back. And if watching the State Street store close entirely is anyone’s idea of second-best satisfaction, please feel free to leave town and don’t let Chicago hit you on the ass as you exit.

    I would prefer my downtown to not have a gaping historic retail hole right in the middle of it, thank you very much.

  4. Great post. Macy’s won’t make it to the next holiday season. State Street will stay open because they cannot “afford” to close it because it will result in a huge outcry by Chicagoans… however other stores will close in Chicagoland including Northbrook Court, the Woodfield Furniture Store, Vernon Hills, etc.

    Macy’s failed. Too bad it had to cost Chicagoans their jobs but MACY’S made the bad business decision and they’re paying for it. Soon there will be no Macy’s and the discussion will come to an end.

  5. Mr. Doyle;

    With all due respect for your writings in support of Field’s, your last post in this thread shows you need to study a little more what people are protesting. You say it is about a name. Wrong. Macy’s would have us believe it is simply a name change when it is not. If Macy’s had the same quality of service and goods, the protesters wouldn’t have a chance. Nor would many boycott the store. At least it wouldn’t gain the momentum it has. Macy’s and Field’s are not the same store with just a different name. They are different stores. Period.

    If you speak to more longtime Field’s supporters you will find that more than a few would rather see the store become shops with condominiums above than stay Macy’s. It would be sad, but that’s actually how a quite a few feel. Even Brian in the first response suggests this position.

    It’s also true that if State Street closes, Lundgren will be gone. To borrow a line from his pal Donald Trump, he will be told, “You’re Fired!”

    Respectfully,

    Robert Jett
    River Grove, Illinois

  6. I wholeheartedly support you in your desire to save the State Street store, James. But our difference is I don’t care what nameplate the store is under at this point. I want the store to remain open.

    The danger in calling for the return of Fields at all costs is that the cost might end up being the closure of the State Street store and its condoization without the return of Fields. In other words, the answer might simply be “no” from Macy’s and the retail Gods that be.

    I really don’t think anyone wants that outcome.

  7. I have roots in both Chicago and Brooklyn, although I was raised here in Chicago. I was in NYC around the time the conversion was announced. New Yorkers expressed sadness at the loss of Field’s. It moved me to eventually start the grass roots organization FieldsFansChicago.org of which I am a co-organizer.

    The incorrect maps were a pointed example of Macy’s lack of understanding of Chicago; yet, there’s another error I’ve discovered that further demonstrates the same hubris. For the past 15 months, the majority of one-pound boxes of Frangos continue feature a “tribute” to the candy’s history and its ties to Field’s. Although reported to Macy’s and the press, there is one big mistake that persists for two holiday seasons now: the story is superimposed over a large photo of the Field’s clock that is UPSIDE DOWN. They can’t even get the clock right. They can’t properly portray an important symbol of the customers they are trying to win over–even when it is part of a product that is one of the most prominent items they sell.

    Remarks such as “The department store is a dying segment”? “Field’s was a shell of past years”? Don’t play into Terry Lundgren’s excuses. That’s not the complete picture here. It’s NOT “Too late To Save Macy’s State Street”.

    Sure, Field’s suffered for the first several years under Target. Even more recently Field’s struggled just like other stores in the early 2000s because of economic problems. But also keep in mind that Field’s underwent a major renovation which debuted in 2003 and it was having successful results putting the grande dame on the upswing. The concepts of shops within the store was inspired by Selfridge’s which of course in turn had its roots in Field’s. Although retail pundits like to say department stores are dying, but then consider that even Macy’s literature from a couple of years ago pointed out that Field’s was Chicago’s number three destination. As far as sales figures, critics like to say that Field’s profits had leveled off and weren’t growing at the same rate as Target’s. Consider that about 60% of the “Field’s stores” were actually Dayton’s or Hudson’s until about four years before the switch. Macy’s refuses to respond to our views that it was the former Dayton’s and Hudson’s stores that hurt Field’s reputation for profitability. And also consider that a flagship store like 111 N. State St. generates sales and profits for other stores too. There’s even more, but I will leave it at that for now. Sure, department stores have been hurting and are struggling. But 111 N. State St. was bucking that trend in a lot of ways.

    Our group FieldsFansChicago.org works feverishly in a number of ways to restore Field’s. At the core of our efforts is to remind the media, the public, Wall Street and the shareholders that in this case the problem is first and foremost the switch from Field’s to Macy’s. Lundgren, et. al would love for everyone to think the problem with former Field’s locations is all about the decline of department stores. It’s sort of like when the Grinch says he has to take the Christmas tree away to fix a light on the back. We’re out there putting out the message, “Not so fast Macy’s!” Lundgren wasn’t counting on that happening.

    We also work to make shareholders and the media aware that the flagship’s maximum value is only realized in its “highest and best use”. For 111 N. State, that “highest and best use” is as Field’s–NOT as small retail, condos and offices and definitely not as Macy’s. Architecturally, 111 N. State is a very different kind of building whose value is maximized as Field’s. Furthermore, the brands and trade names associated with Field’s are appraised at over $400 million. Without 111 N State as a store, that value is much less. That brand along with the store is worth conservatively as over $1.6 B. We argue that Lundgren is squandering valuable corporate assets.

    To be sure, it looks as if Lundgren has to go if this is going to be corrected. What Lundgren and others didn’t anticipate is that the customers would put up an unprecedented fight. The movement to bring back Field’s keeps getting bigger, gaining interest and supporters from customers to civic and business leaders. We have more support and action now than we did 15 months ago. Some of our efforts could be measured in how our 9/9/2007 protest featured more supporters than the first on the day of the switch in 2006. Also consider that 100,000 buttons and even more leaflets detailing how Field’s can come back have been distributed during the past 14 months, mostly in front of 111 N. State.

    Field’s was an unprecedented store. So actually it should come as no surprise that there is an unprecedented movement and customer activity to bring it back. Please support us in our cause–start by reminding people that, yes, Macy’s can’t make it on State Street–but more importantly, tell people Field’s can come back. It came back after two fires and the depression, and it can come back after Macy’s.

  8. The department store is a dying segment of the retail sector and Macy’s first mistake was grossly overpaying for Field’s along with the rest of the Dayton Hudson chain. Macy’s is not the first or last group to come to Chicago and not understand our local loyalties.

    To be honest, Field’s was a shell of past years and the only really special property was the State Street flagship store.

    Perhaps it is best to see her die under someone else’s flag than watching its demise like the once proud Carson Pirie Scott.

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